Substantive Education

February 8, 2009

Kids create their own city-states.

In my Ancient History class we did a little experiment last week. We have been studying the Ancient Greeks and

Great overview

Great overview

comparing some of the city-states. We watched a PBS movie, The Greeks; Crucible of Civilization, that chronicled the development of Athens and Sparta through various monarchies, dictators, oligarchies, and eventually democracies. Each development filled a need and created others. Outside pressures, primarily from the Persians, pushed city-states that were often at war with each other, to unite against a common enemy. As tyrants rose and fell, land became a point of contention, and slave populations grew. We saw that laws were needed that were fair and that the people would abide by.

For our experiment I divided the kids up into 3 groups. It’s important that each group have some boys and some girls. I figured that since no one can chose where they are born I wouldn’t give the kids a choice about the groups they were in. I counted off the boys and the girls by threes, sending the twos to one area of the room etc. Once they were all in their groups I explained the rules of the game. Basically, for the next 2 1/2 hours the kids would be living as ancient Greeks in their city-states. Each group had their table and an area around the table to claim as their ‘land’. They were to live by basic laws honored in most Greek City-Sates.

Mandatory Rules

1. Boys must do all the work and make all of the decisions.

2. Girls must keep their homes and land clean and organized.

3. Girls may not travel unaccompanied by a male outside of their city-state. (This law in particular drew groans. The experiment included the next class period and our lunch break and the girls needed an escort to go to the store, the bathrooms, the kitchen, etc.)

At the end of the time period I had two judges come in. One to judge the boys ‘work’, and one to judge how well the girls did. The boys were assigned the following ‘work’. They had to name their city-state, make up ten laws, and draw a poster of the laws, name, flag etc. The girls were not allowed to help, they could humbly offer an opinion but all decisions had to be made by the boys.

Breaking any of the rules resulted in points being deducted. We had girls lose points for coloring on their posters and wandering off without an escort. If they completed their work in an exemplary fashion the boys could earn up to 10 points and the girls up to 5. Sorry girls, uneven pay scale back then.

The Results

I was happy to hear one 9th grade girl grumbling about 20 minutes into the exercise.   “I thought this was going to be so great, sit back and relax for a whole class and watch the boys do all the work…but it’s horrible. It’s boring. I have ideas too…” All the girls basically felt the same way and were very happy when they no longer needed escorts to walk about the building.

Here are some of the laws the kids came up with.

The first city-state was Atlantis and their flag consisted of a trident in waves. Some of their laws were:

1. Everyone must worship Poseidon.

2. Murder of a citizen is death by crucifixion.

3. Killing of cattle, or other animals, results in you having to repay double.

4. All citizens, slaves, and hetics are required to participate in any wars. (Hetics were people who moved into your city-state from another city-state, generally tradesmen.)

Our next city-state was Siligia. Some of their laws were:

1. Our official goddess is Athena and you must make an offering to her once a week.

2. Male citizens must serve 5 years in the military.

3. You must contribute 10% of your wealth to your city.

4. No public nudity, you must dress appropriately.

5. Children must be educated until the age of 18.

(The rest of theirs  were similar to the 10 Commandments.)

Our last city-state was Equus Fuga which means Flying Horse in Latin. Some of their laws were:

1. Women must have their arms completely covered when in the polis.

2. All visitors will be cared for and receive hospitality. (They had a limit on how long families had to put up visitors and then someone else had to take them in.)

3. This city-state was concerned about noise pollution and had a law that you could not talk to someone who was more than 5 feet away, thus reducing shouting.

4. Concern over the spread of the plague brought about this next law…every person must boil water before it can be consumed.

5. The goddess Aphrodite is this city-states patron goddess and must be worshiped fervently for one hour.

This would be a fun exercise to continue if you have a small group of children and siblings.  You could continue to develop your city-state as you learned more about the different political systems, military experience, and family life in Greece.



  1. Karen,
    I am doing the Mapping the World By Heart curriculum with my Geography class this semester and I was wondering if you could give me some tips on helping them memorize the continents. After I give a lesson about the country/continent every Monday, I have them draw the continent 12 times, with the country boundaries. Would you recommend just having them draw the shape of the continent or both shape and country boundaries? Also- how long does it take to draw the World map at the end of the class? Can they draw it in one day (couple hours)or do it at home over the course of a week or so? I have not done this before, so ANY advice would help! Thanks! I will check back in a few days for your much awaited advice! :O)

    Comment by Moorea — February 10, 2009 @ 12:37 am | Reply

  2. Hi, I also combine Mapping the World by Heart with Welcome to the Wonderful World of Geography. In that book you are given an order to memorize the countries in. I give the kids a blank outline map and we start our continent study by working through the order he gives and saying them in that order, over and over. Basically, he generally works his way in a circle. It’s been helpful. That book also has lots of additional maps with river, physical features, capitals etc. Along with cute mnemonics to help remember…like Never Smell Fish for Norway, Sweden, Finland.
    I have lots of different ages so I give some leeway with who does what and let the parents decide how hardcore they want their kids to go. Generally we work with blank outline maps to start and the younger kids stick with those filing in. The older kids can work without lines if they wish. (I’ve found non art types find it really intimidating and have problems with the shapes etc. Other students find this really helpful.) My main objective is to get the countries, major physical features, and most capitals down. I’m not as worried about them being able to draw them. Basically, what you are doing, repetition, repetition is the key. With each continent we do, the kids generally pick a country and do a report on it…sometimes in the form of a board, sometimes a paper… some have gotten more elaborate.
    We are doing Europe right now, and I have one student who instead of just coloring in his map…is coloring in each country so that it looks like the countries flag. It is turning out really cool. I’ll have to scan it when he is done so you can see.
    I generally take several days to do the test at the end. In the book they did it several ways…In some schools they had different kids focus on different areas and they did a giant final map on the school playground. I don’t know how they got the proportions right on that, but impressive. I allow kids to work for 2 hours for several days running. This allows extra time to study and add in more details. I have given students blank outline maps to fill in, and high school kids maps with just the continent outlines, They will obviously retain more if they can draw in all the shapes, adds another dimension to the learning, but for most of our kids they are doing this in addition to all their regular classes and parents are just looking to have them have a solid grounding in what is where. You really need to decide what your objectives are. Obviously, having them draw everything on a blank piece of paper is ideal, but I’ve found it unrealistic for many. Being able to fill in a blank map is our base requirement…everything else is bonus.
    I’ve found it’s helpful to have kids go through the program twice, once in elem. or Jr. High, then again in high school. The kids in high school quickly solidify what they had learned previously and can add in a lot more details.
    Hope this helps. I’ve kind of tailored it to each group of taught so it’s been a little different each time I’ve done it.
    I also use The Ultimate Geography and Timeline Guide when I’m preparing. It has a good list of Geography Vocab. at the back that I have our kids memorize.
    If you look on our World Geography Homework Page, I’ve listed how we did Asia and Europe and some of the vocab. (Although the kids tell me I made a mistake in Asia…I’ve got to go back and look.) I’ll post the other continents on there if you would find it helpful.

    Hope this helps. Thanks for your comments.

    Comment by kbagdanov — February 10, 2009 @ 1:57 am | Reply

  3. Thank you, yes it does help. I am trying to be realistic and
    let there be some flexibility, as I have advanced high schoolers
    and some eight graders. Are you teaching them to draw the continents
    in class, doing examples on a white board, or are they drawing at
    home on their own?

    Comment by Moorea — February 13, 2009 @ 9:34 pm | Reply

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